- The Washington Times - Monday, November 29, 2004

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — He was a philandering husband convicted of the shocking murder of his young and pregnant wife.

His name wasn’t Scott Peterson, though. It was Todd Garton, and in 2001, a California jury said he deserved to die.

“I signed the document that the jury found for death, and I think about that a lot,” said Fred Castagna, who served as jury foreman. “It was emotional during deliberations, but I don’t lose sleep over it.”

If the experience of Mr. Castagna and others involved in death-penalty cases is any guide, the jurors in Peterson’s murder trial will have to grapple with raw and deep religious, moral and legal issues as they decide whether he lives or dies.

Arguments in the penalty phase are scheduled to begin tomorrow , but experts said many of the jurors already might have made up their minds about what punishment the 32-year-old former fertilizer salesman deserves.

Peterson faces death or life in prison without parole for the murders of his wife, Laci, and her unborn child. His lawyer asked the California Supreme Court for a new jury and a change of venue for the trial’s penalty phase. An appeals court turned down the request last week.

Jurors who have sent people to death row say even though they were overwhelmingly convinced of the defendant’s guilt, settling on the death penalty was one of the toughest decisions of their lives.

“I have strong religious beliefs, and this wasn’t like I had to decide what kind of ice cream to buy,” said Brian Bianco, who served as foreman of the jury that convicted Richard Allen Davis of the 1993 kidnapping and killing 12-year-old Polly Klaas in California.

Nevertheless, like Mr. Castagna, Mr. Bianco said he has never doubted that he made the right decision in sending Davis to death row after four agonizing days of deliberations.

It took a jury just 70 minutes to condemn Garton, who was convicted of hiring a hit man to kill his 29-year-old pregnant wife.

“There wasn’t any real reason to mull it over,” Mr. Castagna said. “It was pretty clear that this guy was evil, that he had concocted this scheme to get his wife killed.”

Garton, convicted of two first-degree murder charges, is one of three men in California sentenced to die because an unborn child perished during a slaying. Peterson could be the fourth.

Determining punishment before deliberations in the penalty phase is a common experience for many death-penalty jurors, according to an ongoing study by the Capital Jury Project at Northeastern University. About half the 1,300 capital case jurors questioned for the study said they had made their sentencing decisions during the guilt phase of the trial, said chief investigator William Bowers.

“That’s perhaps the most profound thing we found,” said Mr. Bowers, who sometimes serves as an expert witness for those facing the death penalty. “That’s a major departure of how it’s supposed to work. You’re supposed to wait for instructions.”

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